Vancouver's new Official Development Plan lacks public input, while Vision "engages" on city-wide block parties

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      The city of Vancouver prepares to quietly approve the city-wide Official Development Plan without any public input prior to a referral to public hearing on June 11.

      Meanwhile, the Mayor's Engaged City Task Force is released with great fanfare declaring the virtues of earlier public involvement in the planning process.

      This proves George Orwell's premise that governments will say one thing while they do the opposite.

      Vision Vancouver is proposing city-wide block parties as a means to engage citizens, rather than including people in meaningful discussions on how they want their city to develop over the next 30 years.

      The Official Development Plan and Regional Context Statement is Vancouver's overarching plan. It will direct all development in the city of Vancouver for the next 30 years, which presently includes proposals to hand over regional designation of large swaths of the city, yet it is being fast-tracked through the system without public involvement.

      All of the city's development and land use policies are bundled up into this one document and presented with a plan to Metro Vancouver for approval.  The plan is second in importance only to the Vancouver Charter, which legally governs the city.

      City hall has been working on these plans with the region, province, and TransLink under the public radar for over a decade. The city continues to present the plans as merely procedural, even though they will affect the future of every neighbourhood and citizen of Vancouver.

      For example, one of the policies included in this plan is the rezoning along all arterials that was approved last fall without consultation as an "interim" policy.

      Our previous regional plan was the Liveable Region Strategic Plan. The current regime replaced it with the Regional Growth Strategy in July 2011. By July 2013, every municipality in the region is expected to submit its own plan to show how it intends to achieve the growth strategy goals set out in the Regional Growth Strategy.

      Each city's draft plan must be submitted to the region for approval accompanied by TransLink comments. The region is required to ensure TransLink's development plans are supported and mirrored by the city's zoning plans, thereby increasing Metro Vancouver, TransLink, and provincial influence over Vancouver's civic land use authority, especially in regionally designated areas of the city. 

      Darlene Marzari was on city council with TEAM from 1972 to 1980. She was elected to the provincial legislature from 1986 to 1996, and served as minister of municipal affairs for two and a half years. About the proposed plans, she says, "Fifty years ago I fought a highway through Strathcona and advocated for neighbourhood involvement in land use decisions.  The wheel has turned full circle. The issues are the same today."

      Marzari further explained, "It should be of great concern that Vancouver would jeopardize its stewardship and legal responsibility for zoning. Promising TransLink a role in the zoning process and decision making of how our city grows takes us towards the slippery slope of provincial jurisdiction overriding the Vancouver Charter. Ramming through an expensive transit option that is funded by massive development would wipe out whole communities with their affordable rental units and close down local area planning processes for which we have received international acclaim.  Vancouver's idea of planning is not served well by pandering to megaprojects without respecting existing communities. Neither is democracy."

      The Vision Council is pushing this plan through quickly and quietly.

      Former TEAM city councillor Marguerite Ford attended the only open house on the plan, concluding, "I am very concerned about the lack of public input into the plan, the lack of consideration of local area plans, and the lack of demonstrated understanding of land use economics." She gave examples of where increased development pressures will result in demolitions of heritage and older affordable rental housing in favour of towers in Chinatown, and residential towers will impact land economics on adjacent industrial land at Marine and Cambie.

      The city is claiming that this plan does not need public consultation because it is based on policy that has already had consultation. However, that is not, in fact, the case.

      Key changes in the Regional Context Statement are entirely new regional designations that make provisions for the region, TransLink, and the province to have increased influence in land use authority in these areas. The public deserves a major say in all of this, but alarmingly, has had none.

      The downtown core of Vancouver was previously been designated a regional centre, but only as a dot on a map. Now it is an exact lot-by-lot line on the map that covers a much broader area. The “metro core” has been extended to include the entire downtown peninsula (including the West End, Coal Harbour, the Central Business District, Yaletown, and the Downtown Eastside), Strathcona, Fairview, and Mount Pleasant—east to Clark/Knight Street, north to the water, south to 16th Avenue, and west to Burrard.

      Additional lot-by-lot regional designations include Oakridge Town Centre and Cambie Street as frequent transit development areas (FTDA). The Broadway Corridor is included as a future FTDA, from Boundary Road to Blanca Street.

      The city is proposing increasing its share of regional growth in population, housing units, and jobs. However, no detailed analysis or data has been provided to justify any need for such an increase beyond what the region has currently projected. Despite repeated requests from the public, the city has steadfastly refused to provide any information that could confirm or contradict their proposed interventions.

      So much for Vision's claim to having an open data policy.

      Vision Vancouver's public engagement seems devoted to using public money to hold parties to campaign for Vision, but avoids engaging the people on important issues that will shape their communities for decades to come.

      The public deserves a more robust and meaningful consultation process on the issues that affect them rather than spending public money on PR campaigns. 

      Elizabeth Murphy is a private sector project manager and was formerly a property development officer for the City of Vancouver's Housing & Properties Department and for B.C. Housing. Contact her at emurphy@nsvancouver.ca.

      Comments

      15 Comments

      J.T.

      Jun 4, 2013 at 12:23pm

      To be expected from Vision. This is not the first time they've pushed through their agenda "quickly and quietly". Can anyone say Bike Lanes?

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      Hazlit

      Jun 4, 2013 at 3:52pm

      The problem with such anti-democratic tendencies is really how they're carried out. Democratic populism doesn't always work as promised. Majorities sometimes make bad decisions. Vision may not be very democratic (they're taking a cue from Mike Bloomberg) but their tyranny thus far has helped make the city better--e.g. bike lanes.

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      genegenie

      Jun 4, 2013 at 6:14pm

      A couple of thoughts ... isn't this how Rob Ford came to power, by turning Toronto into Metro and allowing the regions to pick the mayor?

      And with Gezi Park and the terrible crackdown in Istanbul n the news shouldn't we all be taking a lesson that small tyrannies eventually become big tyrannies ... no matter how many bike lanes we get.

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      Martin Dunphy

      Jun 4, 2013 at 8:26pm

      genegenie:

      Amusingly, Metro Toronto actually changed to Greater Toronto, and soon after Greater Vancouver changed to Metro Vancouver.
      You're not the boss of me.

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      Vancouver Veteran

      Jun 4, 2013 at 9:36pm

      Team Vancouver of years ago accomplished many things for Vancouver including increasing public involvement in decision making and getting unbiased reviews of city plans. Vision is now undoing everything Team set in place.
      Thank you for writing this article. A regular column in this paper or a Vancouver daily that unscrambles what the heck City Hall is up to would be nice!

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      Graham Greene

      Jun 4, 2013 at 10:53pm

      Hitler delivered Germany from hyperinflation and recession, so he should be praised, eh? Democracy is a sine qua non of Canadian culture and governance. If you can't play by open and transparent rules, who cares what you do; you are a criminal no matter what, and guilty of treason. Of course even the worse dictators do some things well, but focus on that at your peril. Democratically-elected people that become dictatorial are always trying to hide something really bad. It ain't the bike lanes, but the city budget. A LOT of money is missing, again.

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      PollySchmolly

      Jun 5, 2013 at 1:57pm

      BUT PARTIES AND KITE SURFING YOU GUYS! ISN'T THAT AWESOME! PARTIES! KITE SURFING! (and massive changes to the way the city operates but ignore those) AND PARTIES! LOOK HOW MUCH FUN WE'RE HAVING! (don't look at how we're driving this city into the ground by stealing from community centres, taking expensive flights to meetings we don't need to be at, never addressing our F-ups, and taxing the holy hell out of you) BUT PARTIES! AND ENGAGEMENT! ISN'T ENGAGEMENT GREAT? LET'S RIDE OUR BIKES AND EAT A VEGAN HOT DOG!

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      Steve

      Jun 5, 2013 at 2:53pm

      With apologies to Ms. Warren, it might be prudent to consider the unmitigated veracity of a column written by a "private sector project manager" employed under former civic administrations for a paper that has adopted a one-note attitude toward Vision. A good many attacks on public participation in this City are led by right-wing commentators who would allow even less of it if given a chance, who are purely trying to make political hay. The community plan process continues - I attended the first of 3 for Grandview-Woodlands on Saturday - and public input is being actively sought and integrated as it has been before, experienced in working with the City as a community volunteer for 15 years. The jurisdiction issue needs much more air and light, certainly, but overall the issues raised here require more 'weighing-in' from a broader cast of characters and from other sources to obtain a clearer view. Let's maybe leave Hitler out of this one for now.

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      Elizabeth Murphy

      Jun 5, 2013 at 7:20pm

      @ Steve
      I am no fan of the NPA and certainly found that when they had the majority on council under Sam Sullivan and Suzanne Anton they voted in block and ignored public input entirely. The NPA are no alternative to Vision. In fact Vision are implementing the NPA's policies for the most part.

      Vision's community planning process is horrific. If you want to know what the community in Grandview think of the city's plan for their area, see the blog post from Jak King, the President of the Grandview Woodland Area Council (GWAC): http://jaksview3.wordpress.com/2013/06/04/community-plan-the-fight-begins/

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      Nelson100

      Jun 6, 2013 at 3:56am

      Hazlit, thank you for providing this insight into Vision’s fundamental misunderstanding of the democratic processes. Take a look at Gregor Robertson’s comments in China and Vision’s generate behaviour, including the astonishing f*king hacks” comments. In your view; “Democratic populism doesn't always work as promised. Majorities sometimes make bad decisions.” Here’s a newsflash. In a democracy, the majority is always right, in fact that’s kind of how democracy works. Elected officials are the servants of the electors and their role is to serve them. The voters. Not developers. Not condo marketers. Not US billionaires.

      I almost choked on my coffee reading your comments that Vision has made Vancouver a better city. Vision’s key claim to fame is how much of the city’s character they’ve managed to bulldoze (The Yale, Pantages Theatre, Park Cinema, The Ridge, Maxine’s, St John’s church, and soon the Waldorf) to be replaced by a bunch of cookie cutter sterile (amything but green) glass condo towers owned by absent overseas investors. Rents haven’t gone down one cent in fact they are still going up. Homelessness is as bad as ever. City taxes have skyrocketed. Inept management of the Stanley Cup riot. Vision’s judgement decision making is so poor precisely because they do not honestly solicit or consider public input.

      I suggest it is time citizens of Vancouver provide Vision a badly needed lesson in how democracy works in the next civic election.

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